By Rochelle Maruch Miller
Talk about an impeccable sense of timing! Pierre Mevy Azaria, of MCI Sports, an Israeli-born soccer entrepreneur who promotes exhibition matches in Europe between the sport’s top teams, wanted to break into the United States arena with his homeland team.
“We decided almost one year ago to meet our public in the United States,” Mevy said. “Because of the growing interest in soccer throughout the United States, we felt it was the right time to bring a soccer match to New York.” Citi Field had extended a warm welcome to past soccer matches it had hosted, making it the venue of choice for Mevy and his associates. Although the selection of available dates was limited, Mevy scheduled the soccer match for Sunday, June 2, the day of the Celebrate Israel Parade!
“It happened by coincidence,” says Mevy, adding “although I don’t believe in coincidence.” The highly anticipated match, between Israel and Honduras, represents the first time the Israeli team has played in the United States in 35 years. It will take place at 5:30, immediately following the Jewish Community Relations Council-sponsored Celebrate Israel Parade along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, from 11 to 4.
Noting his good fortune in securing such an auspicious date for the event, Mevy, who resides in Geneva, acknowledged, “It makes the match easier to promote. The game will be a good chance to show a non-political side of life in Israel. This is something that is good for Israel’s image.”
Show your support for Israel while participating in sports history. For the first time in over three decades, Israel’s national soccer team will be appearing in New York. The national team currently features several players from the English Premier League. Yossi Benayoun, Tal Ben Haim, and Itay Schechter will be leading the national team roster for the international soccer match against Honduras’ national team at Citi Field. Led by Coach Eli Guttman, Israel most recently defeated Northern Ireland 2–0 in a World Cup Qualifier in Belfast on March 26. Until recently Benayoun, who is captain of the Israeli national team and an attacking midfielder, played for Chelsea (Great Britain). In the wake of anti-Semitic rants and threats on Twitter, he announced he was quitting the Chelsea team. Benayoun had joined Chelsea in a pre-season tour of the United States in the summer of 2012, including a stop in New York. In August, he returned to his former club West Ham United on loan, and returned to Chelsea at the beginning of January 2013. He has notched a team-high 24 goals in 92 appearances for the Blue and Whites.
Acclaimed as being one of the top defenders in the English Premier League, Tal Ben Haim will anchor the Israeli defense in this, his 72nd appearance for the national team. He was recently acquired by Toronto FC on loan from the Queens Park Rangers. Itay Schechter, currently playing with Swansea City on loan from FC Kaiserslautem, will push the tempo from the forward position along with Elyaniv Barda, who has notched 30 appearances and 12 goals for the national team.
Honduras, a 2010 FIFA Cup Qualifier WC is ranked 50th in world standing; the Israeli national team is ranked 59th. Led by Coach Luis Fernando Suarez, the Honduras team features Rojer Espinoza, Wilson Palacios, and Andy Najar as its star players. Espinoza and Palacios star in the English Pro League for Stoke City and Wigan while the 20-year-old Najar plays for Anderlecht in the Belgian Pro League.
The Israel–Honduras match marks the third consecutive year that Citi Field has hosted an international soccer competition. Ecuador and Greece battled to a 1–1 tie before a near sellout crowd of 39,656 on June 7, 2011 in the first soccer game at Citi Field, and Ecuador defeated Chile on August 15, 2012 in front of 31,901 fans.
“We will be playing with a great deal of excitement and energy at Citi Field this Sunday, in anticipation of the World Cup Qualifier, which will be held in Costa Rica five days after Sunday’s match. Mevy stresses the importance of bringing the soccer match to successful fruition, to project a positive image for Israel and help the nation’s economy. “There is a lack of knowledge about Israel. By sharing our sports with teams from other countries, the media and public are presented with an accurate image of our people and our country—how we interact with others.”
Local arrangements for the soccer match are being handled by the Get It Done NY organization. Tickets start at $20 and are available at Mets.com/Soccer and 718-507-TIXX. A shuttle bus is available to Citi Field following the parade. v